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Why Mohammad Rafi Will Always Be Missed

December 24, 2023 18:31 IST
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Mohammad Rafi had a powerful range that could accommodate anything from the sublime O duniya ke rakhwale for Bharat Bhushan in Baiju Bawra to the eccentric Badan pe sitare lapete huye for Shammi Kapoor in Prince.

IMAGE: Mohammad Rafi would have turned 99 today, December 24, 2023. Photograph: Rediff Archives

"We had some good times together," Lata Mangeshkar once recalled about Mohammad Rafi. "We had our little differences. But he was a very simple and uncorrupted man."

Rafisaab had a strong command over Hindi and Urdu and a powerful range that could accommodate anything from the sublime O duniya ke rakhwale for Bharat Bhushan in Baiju Bawra to the eccentric Badan pe sitare lapete huye for Shammi Kapoor in Prince.

He never really had to rough it out. Success was his from almost the start. Born in 1924 in an area that today lies in Pakistan, Rafisaab moved to Lahore at the age of 14 to learn classical music.

Discovered by Radio Lahore he used to lend his voice for the station when he started out. It was in 1944 that he sang his first film song in Punjabi. But superstardom came his way when Naushad noticed him and picked him up for some compositions.

Naushadsaab first used Rafisaab's voice for Pehle Aap in 1944. Two years later, Rafisaab's duets with Noorjehan in Anmol Ghadi catapulted the singer to the top league where he remained for the next 25 years, singing many of his most popular songs with Lata Mangeshkar.

Every composer, big or small, used Rafisaab's indomitable vocal range to great advantage. But his tuning with Naushad and Shankar-Jaikishan was undoubtedly special.

While Naushadsaab made sure that Rafisaab became the ghost voice of 1950s superstar Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor preferred Rafisaab's contemporary Mukesh and Dev Anand was more comfortable with Kishore Kumar.

But among the magnificent trio, only Rafisaab could cut across the image barrier to sing for every face and occasion. He was as comfortable doing a seduction song like Kis se pyar karoon for Shammi Kapoor as he was singing a sad song Babul ki duayen for Balraj Sahni.

IMAGE: Rafisaab in London. Photograph: Rediff Archives

Rafisaab's voice went a long way in shaping Shammi Kapoor's superstardom. From the time Shammi Kapoor zoomed into stardom with the call of Yahoo, chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe, Rafisaab became an integral part of India's first screen icon to have a wild sexy image, belting out one hit after another until the star and the voice became one in the public's mind.

Another star whose image went a long way through Rafisaab's voice was Rajendra Kumar for whom the singer sang sober ballads like Teri pyari pyari soorat and Baharon phool barsaao.

Rafisaab ruled the charts throughout the 1960s. At the end of the decade, Shammi Kapoor was out. A new superstar named Rajesh Khanna spun into sight. And Khanna preferred Kishore Kumar's voice.

It's ironical that the song that made the Rajesh Khanna-Kishore Kumar pair a national rage was Mere sapnon ki rani in Aradhana. Twenty-three years earlier, Rafi had soared to new heights with a song of the same title in the film Shahjehan.

IMAGE: Rafisaab, second from right, with his sons and Kishore Kumar, third from right. Photograph: Rediff Archives

Rafisaab's era clearly ended in the 1970s. The final insult to the titan was to have his version of Tum bin jaoon kahan in the film Pyar Ka Mausam overpowered in the charts by Kishore Kumar's version.

Rafisaab struggled on, singing occasional hits throughout the 1970s and even making a tentative comeback with Laxmikant-Pyarelal's entire score inSargam along with Lataji.

Rafisaab's last recordings were for Laxmikant-Pyarelal in the film film Aas Pas.He had a heart attack and died on July 31, 1980, leaving behind a rich legacy.

Not many people know that Rafisaab also acted in some films like Jugnu and Mela in the 1940s. His benevolence and charitable nature are still spoken about in the industry.

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